A Brief Guide to Understanding the Management of Tuition Assistance Programs
As I was delving into the topic of Tuition Assistance Programs (TAPs), I remembered that during my years working as a marketing director for a mid-sized manufacturing company, I had taken advantage of a generous TAP in which they prepaid for a graduate-level seminar course I enrolled in called “Communications in the 21st Century.”
Turns out the course was taught by a brilliant professor who introduced me to the world of online higher education, something that at the time (mid 1990s) was a relatively new development. I was fascinated – so much so that I started writing articles in my free time about how to earn an MBA online. The articles got some recognition that led to me writing a book about online college planning. The publisher provided an advanced royalty, along with a very tight and difficult-to-meet 15-week deadline, so I wound up resigning from the marketing job to write the book.
In short, the employer’s TAP got me going on to an entirely different career pathway that resulted in no gain whatsoever for them. I have to believe that this kind of scenario happens regularly. Employer pays for a course or courses - employee learns a lot and increases his skills dramatically - employee departs for different pastures. Can a company have a great TAP and avoid this kind of scenario from happening?
Effectively Managing a TAP
The answer, I think, is in the affirmative, provided that a company has a top-notch, well-staffed human resources department that can continuously monitor the effectiveness of its TAP, or, if a company can afford to outsource this important employee benefit to a TAP management company. Call me ignorant, but I did not know that TAP management companies even existed until I happened upon EdLink while I was working on another story about workforce development solutions. Two other similar TAP management providers are Edcor and EdAssist. I’m sure there are more.
Anyway, next thing I know I’m on the phone talking with the more-than-helpful and affable Debra Steele, EdLink’s marketing and communication manager, who gave me a quick education about EdLink as well as a good supply of some decent resources about TAP, in general, via email.
One of those resources was a paper titled “The Value of Tuition Assistance,” that was based on a 2011 self-generated study conducted by EdLink in partnership with Capella University and the ROI Institute. Here it is noted that according to a National Association of Colleges and Employers 2011 Student Survey, tuition reimbursement is the third most desirable employee benefit behind 100-percent employer-paid medical coverage and salary increases. In brief, the EdLink et al. study made a strong case for showing “that there are significant benefits for organizations to invest in tuition assistance for their employees.” An in-depth analysis of this study can be found in a June 6 article published by Chief Learning Officer titled “Offering Money for School Pays Off.”
According to Steele, EdLink brings value-added services to TAPs through a variety of services, including providing companies with an online management system that is basically an individualized, company-branded website featuring a full slate of comprehensive resources for employees to access. Employees visit the website to access resources and guidance on course (including continuing education courses and programs), certificate or degree options offered though EdLink’s Featured Provider Network, which consists of more than 70 higher education institutions, most of which offer flexible fully online and hybrid courses and programs.
On the administrative side, EdLink also provides a reporting and tracking service – which I think is a significant benefit for companies that don’t have solid internal data collection and analysis capabilities – whereby employers can get a clearer picture of what courses their employees are taking, what institutions are attracting students, what kind of degree or certification they may be pursuing, along with measurements about skills learned, and whether or not they are still with the company. Measuring such results over time could provide data that would help prevent the kind of scenario I mentioned at the start of this post where an employee might jump ship after benefiting from a TAP.
Think Community Colleges
In another blog post where I touched briefly on TAPs, I noted that it’s very difficult for some employees, particularly those who are in low to mid-skill jobs and not earning a high wage, to be required to prepay tuition for courses themselves out of their own pocket. Steele said that about 40 percent of the companies that EdLink works with provide fully pre-paid TAPs to their employees. The rest do either straight or partial reimbursement.
One way in which companies can save money if they decide to go with a pre-paid TAP, at least in regard to helping to educate their non-degreed employees or those seeking to gain new credentials and skills, is to consider TAPs that include more community colleges. Nothing really surprising here, but according to a study about average tuition costs in public, private and non-profit colleges and universities conducted in 2006-07 by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) – which is the partner with ACT, Inc. that created and operates EdLink – and Bellevue University’s Human Capital Lab, an associate degree requiring 60 to 66 credits to complete costs about $15,200; a bachelor’s degree requiring 120 to 128 credits to complete costs about $38,300; and a master’s degree requiring 30 to 36 credits to complete costs about $19,800.
In addition to offering viable tuition cost savings during tough economic times, community colleges, in general, are starting to offer more online and hybrid courses and programs in a wider number of disciplines, such as advanced manufacturing, energy, biotechnology, electronics, engineering technologies, etc., as well as increased offerings related to soft-skills on numerous levels. In the end, TAPs – either pre-paid or reimbursed after completing a course offered by any accredited higher education institution – are extremely valuable exercises for both employees and employers.
About the Author
George Lorenzo is president of Lorenzo Associates, Inc., and writer, editor and publisher of The SOURCE on Community College Issues, Trends & Strategies, a rich information resource dedicated to the postsecondary education sector. He has more than 25 years experience as a professional education writer, editor, researcher and publisher.